Discourse Community Ethnography: Yazaki
Discourse communities are a part of people’s lives whether they identify themselves in a discourse community or not. Throughout people’s lives, they acquire new skills or preferences that lets them join a certain discourse. To identify whether a community is a discourse, one must follow Swales six characteristics to see if a community qualifies. Following these six characteristics, I examined whether the Yazaki North America, Inc. could be categorized as a discourse community. In my research and after conducting interviews, I concluded that Yazaki followed all six characteristics of Swales and therefore can be identified as a discourse community.
When people talk about discourse communities, they all have different definitions to the term. If one dissects the term, discourse is the act of speaking or writing about a subject or topic and community is a set of people that share something in common. John Swales (1990) defines discourse communities as “groups that have goals or purposes, and use communication to achieve these goals”, this means that people can form part of many different discourse communities throughout their life. A way to identify whether someone is a part of a discourse community, it is best to identify the six discourse communities Swales uses. By using these qualifications, it is safe to assume a person forms part of a discourse community. The discourse community I am going to be analyzing in this paper is the Yazaki North America, Inc. This is a company that makes automotive parts and, although I mainly focused on the North America companies, it is a worldwide corporation that originated in Japan. I decided to analyze the Yazaki that is located in Buenaventura, Chihuahua, therefore I interviewed the quality manager and based on the responses I would then conclude whether Yazaki North America, Inc. is a discourse community.
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There is a wide variety of articles that define discourse communities differently, but the one definition that will be the focus of this paper, will be the one provided by John Swales. “The Concept of Discourse Community” starts by providing the definition of a speech community to avoid misunderstandings and mixture between that community and discourse community. A speech community merely means a linguistic community in which every person is born into (Swales, 1990).
A discourse community, as defined by Swales, is one that shares a common set of goals and to achieve them, the members use intercommunication with their own jargon and follow their own set of rules. Swales gives six characteristics that serve as a guide and define discourse communities. He explains that a discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals, has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members, uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback, utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims, has specific lexis and has different levels of members (Swales, 1990).
On the other hand, James E. Porter’s “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community” (1986) talks about how discourse communities all come from one discourse community, because they share texts and borrow ideas from each other. He gives two different types of intertextuality which are iterability and presupposition. Iterability is the repetition of certain things that are based on culture and presupposition are “assumptions a text makes about its referent, its readers, and its context” (Porter, 1986).
They both give different meaning to what a discourse community is, but they do have in common that for something to be cataloged as a discourse community, it must have communication in between its members.
To fully understand the concept of discourse communities, I decided to observe the discourse community my dad is a part of. I observed the Yazaki North America company which is a company that makes automotive parts. I choose to observe this company because my dad has been part of this community for over 30 years and it is a community that not many people are going to be able to learn about due to the location.
To get a better overview of what goes on in this community, I observed for about two hours and then I interviewed my dad. On a Friday, I drove to San Buenaventura, Chihuahua, to my dad’s house and asked him if I could shadow him while he was working. Once I entered the building, I realized that people from different places and economic status work here. This is because San Buenaventura is a really small town and since Yazaki is a big corporation in need of a lot of workers, there are a lot of buses that are transporting people from the towns near to work in the assembly line in the mornings and afternoons which is when the shifts switch. They recruit new people by advertising throughout the town and different locations by putting banners that state that they need personnel, donation to schools and open house activities. Also, since it is a corporation with origin in Japan, there is a lot of Japanese workers that are brought to oversee the work that is being done at all the different locations.
Once I was ready to start shadowing my dad, I was not allowed to do so because there are a lot of risks by me not being trained or prepared to be near the heavy machinery that is used in the building, so I had to hang out at my father’s cubicle for about two hours and therefore my observation were very limited and had to solemnly rely on the interview questions.
I distinguished the different ranks there were as I saw them walking past me and seeing their attires. The managers, such as my dad, were wearing a collared shirt with the Yazaki logo, trousers and well-polished shoes. This gave them a tidy, more formal look making them stand out from all the other workers. The rest of the workers were wearing polo shirts and jeans.
I also noticed that almost everyone knew each other already and this was due to the fact that the town is very small, and there are not many jobs around but the ones the Yazaki corporation offers meaning that a lot of people.
To understand whether Yazaki North America, Inc. is a discourse community, it has to qualify for all six characteristics Swales talks about in his article “The Concept of Discourse Community”.
- “A discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals” (Swales, 1990, p. 472).
The Yazaki North America, Inc. has a very specific set of goals. These goals consist of quality, cost and delivery. Yazaki makes harnesses for automobiles such as Honda, Toyota, Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Mazda and many more. Thus, quality is very important because if the company does not deliver quality harnesses, the car itself will not work. This is because the harnesses send electrical signals which is the way the car performs all its different mechanisms. It can be “comparable to the human nervous system, distributing electricity and information to all other systems, components and features of the vehicle” (Yazaki, n.d.). Their goal is also cost and delivery, which means that the company tries to always stay in schedule with the production, so they do not lose money and be late on deliveries. I have seen how my dad works overtime when a problem is faced at the factory because when they have a delay, they try to work into finding a solution fast and stay on schedule for deliveries to the next assembly line.
- “A discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members” (Swales, 1990, p. 472).
Yazaki’s quality personnel, have different types of intercommunication. They mostly rely on video chat to communicate with each other because most of the members are always traveling and it is rare that they are all in the same place at the same time. They hold daily meetings where they talk about what has been done that day and how the production is going. They hold these meeting from Monday through Thursday. When they face a problem with the assembly line or other Yazaki locations such as the ones in Chihuahua, Chihuahua or Ignacio Zaragoza, Chihuahua, they communicate via Skype or by phone call to address the issues. Sometimes, depending on the issue, they travel to the place, so they can have a verbal, face to face conversation and find a solution to their problems and meet what the company targets.
- “A discourse community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback” (Swales, 1990, p. 472).
In Yazaki, the way they provide information and feedback is through their daily meetings. There, they go over everything that has been done throughout the day and then they analyze what could have been improved.
Then they email this information to the supervisor, so they can be alert that the people that work in the assembly line follow the protocol that is to be used to make their wire harnesses the best quality possible.
- “A discourse community utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims” (Swales.1990, p. 472).
The company uses quality reports, e-mails, training manuals, procedures and work instructions as their way of keeping record of everything that goes on in a daily basis, so when they face a problem with the assembly line, they can quickly now what went wrong and fix it right away. By using these genres, it makes it easy for them to identify a problem and the way it should be approached.
- “In addition to owning genres, a discourse community had acquired some specific lexis” (Swales, 1990, p. 473).
In Yazaki, they use a lot of wire harness technical terminology that not many of us would know. They use terms such as, alternating voltage, ALS, abrasion resistance, vw-1, conductor, conduit and many more. This lexis helps them communicate and have a precise name to each of the parts that are used to create a wire harness. In life, not many people will come across these terminologies unless they form part of this community or pursue a carrier as an engineer.
- “A discourse community has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discourse expertise” (Swales, 1990, p.473).
In Yazaki, there are many different positions one can be hired for. It can be as low as a janitor or as high as a supervisor or manager. To be able to get in one must have completed at least middle school. These people would be considered as the lowest level of membership, the new hired employee. Once a person wants to move up the ranks, that person needs to go through a course and be certified in a certain area. To be able to become a supervisor or manager, the person must be an exemplar employee. This means that one must obey company rules, willing to help and go beyond their assigned duties.
All in all, the Yazaki North America, Inc., follows all six characteristics that Swales states to be part of discourse communities. The Yazaki corporation has a set goal that is sought by intercommunication of its members to provide information with its own lexis and genre, and have different levels of members. It is safe to assume that Yazaki is a discourse community because it follows the qualifications set by Swales in “The Concept of Discourse Community”.
- Porter, J. E. (1986). Intertextuality and the discourse community. Rhetoric Review, 5(1), 34-47.
- Swales, J. (1990). The concept of discourse community. In E. Wardle, & D. Downs, Writing about Writing (pp. 215-223). Boston, New York: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.
- Yazaki. (n.d.). Wire harnesses. Retrieved from http://www.yazaki-na.com/products-capabilities/wire-harnesses/